William Michael Rossetti William Shakespeare.

The complete works of Shakespeare: With a critical biography online

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Virtue and cunning were endowments greater
Than nobleness and riches,

is like a first study for Prospero. In the fifth act Marina, so named from her
birth at sea, has grown to the age of fourteen years, and is, as it were, a sister
of Miranda and Perdita (note in each case the significant name). She, like
Perdita, is a child lost by her parents, and, like Perdita, we see her flower-like
with her flowers — only these flowers of Marina are not for a merrymaking, but
a grave. The melancholy of Pericles is a clear-obscure of sadness, not a gjoom
of cloudy remorse like that of Leontes. His meeting with his lost Marina is
like an anticipation of the scene in which Cymbeline recovers his sons and
daughter ; but the scene in Pericles is filled with a rarer, keener passion of
joy. And again, the marvellous meeting between Leontes and Hermione is
anticipated by the union of Pericles and his Thaisa. Thus Pericles^ containing
the motives of much that was worked out more fully in later dramas, may be
said to bear to the Romances somewhat of the same relation which The Two
Gentlemen of Verona bears to the comedies of love which succeeded it in
Shakespeare's second dramatic period.

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Venus and Adonis was entered in the Stationers' Company register on
April 1 8, 1593, and was published the same year. The poem at once became
popular, and before the close of 1602 it had been reprinted no fewer than six
times. "As the soule of Euphorbus," wrote Meres in his WiVs Treasury
(1598), "was thought to live in Pythagoras, so the sweete wittie soule of Ovid
lives in mellifluous and hony-tongued Shakespeare ; witnes his Venus and
Adonis^ his Lucrece, his sugred Sonnets among his private friends, &c"
Ovid had told the story of the love of Venus for Adonis, and the death of
the beautiful hunter by a wild boar's tusk : the coldness of Adonis, his boyish
disdain of love, was an invention of later times ; and it is in this later form
that Shakespeare imagines the subject The Metamorphoses of Ovid had
been translated into English verse by Arthur Golding (1567), and Shakespeare,
if not now, was certainly at a later date acquainted with this translation. A
speech of Prospero in The Tempest (Act V. Sc. i.), beginning —

** Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes, and groves,**

is suggested by a passage of Golding's Ovid ; but Shakespeare's treatment
of the subject of the Venus and Adonis has less in common with Ovid than
with a short poem by a contemporary writer of sonnets and lyrical poems,
Henry Constable, which appeared in a collection of verse published in 1600,
under the name of England's Helicon. It is uncertain which of the two
poems. Constable's or Shakespeare's, was the earlier written.

When Venus and Adonis appeared Shakespeare was twenty-nine years of
age ; the Earl of Southampton, to whom it was dedicated, was not yet twenty.
In the dedication the poet speaks of these " unpolisht lines " as " the first
heire of my invention." Did Shakespeare mean by this that Venus and Adonis
was written before any of his plays, or before any plays that were strictly
original — his own " invention } " or does he, setting plays altogether apart,
which were not looked upon as literature, in a high sense of the word, call it
his first poem because he had written no earlier narrative or lyrical verse ?
We cannot be sure. It is possible, but not likely, that he may have written
this poem before he left Stratford, and have brought it up with him to London.
More probably it was written in London, and perhaps not long before its pub-
lication. The year 1593, in which the poem appeared, was a year of plague ;
the London theatres were closed : it may be that Shakespeare, idle in London,
or having returned for a while to Stratford, then wrote the poem. Whenever
writtjen, it was elaborated with peculiar care. The subject of the poem is
sensual, but with Shakespeare it becomes rather a study or analysis of passion


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and the objects of passion, than in itself passionate. Without being dramatic,
the poem contains the materials for dramatic poetry, set forth at large. The
descriptions of English landscape and country life are numerous, and give a
spirit of breezy life and health to portions of the poem which could ill afford
to lose anything that is fresh and healthful.

The Rape of Lucrece^?& entered in the Stationers' register May 9, 1594,
and was published the same year. Like the Venus and Adonis^ it is dedicated
to the Earl of Southampton, having been perhaps the " graver labour " promised
in the dedication of the Venus and Adonis, The two poems resemble one
another in several respects, especially in the detailed descriptive style, which
draws out at length the particulars of a scene, an incident, or an emotion. The
poem of later date, however, exhibits far less immaturity than does the " first
heire " of Shakespeare's invention. Part of this may be due to the fact that the
subject is deeper and more passionate : instead of the enamored Venus we have
here the pure and noble Lucretia ; instead of the boy Adonis, the powerful
figure of the evil Tarquin. The versification is freer and bolder ; in the Venus
and Adonis the stanza was one of six lines, consisting of a rhymed quatrain
followed by a couplet ; here a fifth line is introduced between the quatrain and
couplet ; rhyming with lines two and four. This structure tends to encourage
more variety in the arrangement of pauses. The Lucrece was a poem highly
admired by Shakespeare's contemporaries, and was several times republished,
though less often than the Venus, The story of Lucretia is told by Livy and
Ovid, and was versified by Gower, and again related in Paynter's Palace of
Pleasure^ 1567.

The Passionate Pilgrim was published by William Jaggard in 1 599. It was
a piratical bookseller's venture, and although the popular name of Shake-
speare was put upon the title-page, the little volume really consisted of a
collection from several authors. Mention has already been made of the fact
that Shakespeare, as Heywood tells us, was much offended when Jaggard, in
1612, republished the volume, with added poems of Heywood, and with
Shakespeare's name upon the title-page : a cancel of the title-page thereupon
was made, and one printed without any author's name. After the fifteenth
poem of the original collection occurs a second title — Sonnets to Sundry Notes
of Music, The following table shows, as far as has been ascertained, how the
volume was made up ;

*• ^^ Shakespeare's Softruit, 158 and 144 (with various readings, those of the Sonntts the true or

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X. Probably not Shakespeare's.

XI. Probably by Bartholomew Griffin, in whose Fidessa more Chaste than Kindts 1596, it had

appeared with various readings (on the subject of Vttnu and Adonis).

XII. Perhaps Shakespeare's.

XI n. Probably by the same writer as x.
XIV. Probably not Shakespeare's.
XV, Probably not Shakespeare's.
XVI. Certainly not Shakespeare's.

XVII. Dumain's poem to Kate in Lovers Labor's Lost (Act iv. Sc iii. 1. 101-120).
x\'iii. From Weelke's J^Wrf>w/f, 1597.
XIX. Possibly Shakespeare's.
XX. By Marlowe (given here imperfectlyX Love* s Answer {j^^a defective here) is attributed to

Sir W. Raleigh.
XXI. By Richard Bamfield, from his Poems in Divers Humors^ 159S.

The Phctnix and the Turtle was printed as one of the additional poems to
Chester's Lovers Martyr, or Rosalind's Complaint^ 1601, with Shakespeare's
name appended. That it is his seems in a high degree doubtful.

The Sonnets of Shakespeare suggest, perhaps, the most difficult questions
in Shakespearian criticism. In 1609 appeared these poems in a quarto (pub-
lished almost certainly without the author's sanction), which also contained
A Lover's Complaint. The publisher, Thomas Thorpe, dedicated them " To
the onlie begetter of these ensuing sonnets, Mr. W. H." Does " begetter "
mean the person who inspired them and so brought them into existence, or
only the obtainer of the Sonnets for Thorpe ? Probably the former. And
who is Mr. W. H. .^ It is clear from Sonnet 135 that the Christian-name of
Shakespeare's friend, to whom the first one hundred and twenty- six sonnets
were addressed, was William. But what William .> There is not even an
approach to certainty in any answer offered to this question. Some have sup-
posed that W. H. is a blind to conceal and yet express the initials, H. W.,
that is, Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, Shakespeare's patron.
Others hold that William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke (to whom, together
with his brother, the First Folio was dedicated), is here addressed.

When were the Sonnets written ? We know that Meres, in 1598, spoke of
Shakespeare's "sugred sonnets among his private friends," and that in 1599
two (138 and 144) were printed in The Passionate Pilgrim. Some, if we were
to judge by their style, seem to belong to the time when Romeo and Juliet was
written. Others — as, for example, 66-74 — echo the sadder tone which is
heard in Hamlet and Measure for Measure, The writing of the Sonnets cer-
tainly extended over a considerable period of time, at least three years (see
104), and perhaps a longer period. They all lie, I believe, somewhere between
1595 and 1605.

The Sonnets consist of two series, the first from i to 126 (The Envoy, 126,
consisting of twelve lines in couplets), addressed to a young man ; the other,
127-154, addressed to or referring to a woman. But both series allude to
events which connect the two persons with one another and with Shakespeare.
The young friend, whom Shakespeare loved with a fond idolatry, was beauti-

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ful, clever, rich in the gifts of fortune, of high rank. The woman was of
stained character, false to her husband, the reverse of beautiful, dark-eyed,
pale-faced, a musician, possessed of a strange power of attraction. To her
^sdnation Shakespeare yielded himself, and in his absence she laid her
snares for Shakespeare's friend and won him. Hence a coldness, estrange-
ment, and, for some time, a complete severance between Shakespeare and his
friend, after a time followed by acknowledgment of faults on both sides, and a
complete reconciliation.

So the Sonnets must be interpreted if we accept the natural sense they seem
to bear. But several persons have held that they are either altogether of an
ideal nature or allegorical, or were written in part by Shakespeare not for
himself but for the use of others. The natural sense, however, is, I am
convinced, the true one.

The Sonnets from i to 126 form, allowing for a few possible breaks, a con-
tinuous series. In the early Sonnets the poet urges his friend to marry, that,
his beauty surviving in his children, he may conquer Time and Decay. But
if he refuses this, then Verse — the poetry of Shakespeare — must make war
upon Time, and confer immortality upon his friend's loveliness (15-19).* Many
of the poems are written in absence (26, 27, 28, &c.). All Shakespeare's griefs
and losses are made good to him by joy in his friend (29-31). The wrong
done by " Will " to Shakespeare is then spoken of (33), for which some " salve "
is oflfered (34) ; the salve is worthless, but Shakespeare will try to forgive. We
trace the gradual growth of distrust on each side (58), until a melancholy settles
down upon the heart of Shakespeare (66). Still he loves his friend, and tries
to think him pure and true. Then a new trouble arises — his friend is favoring
a rival poet of great learning and skill (76-86). This rival poet has, with some
show of evidence, been conjectured to be George Chapman, the translator of
Homer. Shakespeare bids his friend " Farewell " (87) ; let him hate Shake-
speare if he will. He ceases to address poems to him ; but after an interval
of silence begins once more to sing (100, loi, 102, &c.). He sees his friend
again and finds him still beautiful. There is a recondliation (104, 105, 107).
Explanations and confessions are made. Love is restored, stronger than ever
(119), for now it has passed through trial and sorrow; it is founded not on
interested motives (124), nor, as formerly, on the attraction of youth and
beauty, but is inward of the heart (125). And thus, gravely and happily, the
Sonnets to his friend conclude.

The reader who chooses to investigate the second series of Sonnets — those
to Shakespeare's dark mistress — will meet with little difficulty in understanding
them. Perhaps 153, 154, which seem to be two experiments in verse on the
same subject, ought to be placed apart from the rest

* The figures are meant not to mark divisions or groups of sonneta» but to illustrate by striking pas-
the brief analysis of the Soniuts,

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Shakespeare's debt to the Bible is far greater than many imagine ; and
the world's debt to Shakespeare will not be lessened, if the source whence he
derived so much of his marvellous power and influence is brought into greater

To a very considerable extent, the Bible moulded and guided his moral and
intellectual teaching. His writings are impregnated with the leaven of
revealed truth ; and this divine element in his works is unquestionably one
of the principal secrets of his wide-spread and wide-spreading fame.

Several volumes have been published that show how great was Shake-
speare's indebtedness to the Bible. In America there is " Shakespeare's
Morals," by Arthur Oilman, M.A. (New York ; Dodd, Mead & Co.), and in
England there are Bishop Wordsworth's valuable work, and " Bible Truths
with Shakespearian Parallels," by James Brown, of Selkirk. From the last
mentioned we take the following summary of the references to biblical
characters :


Ten allusions to Adam.

Two to Adam and Eve.

Four to Eve.

Six to Cain.

Two to Abel.

Two to Abraham.

Six to Jacob.

One to Japhet

One to Hagar.

Two to Laban.

One to Noah.

One to the flood.

One to the ark.

One to Pharaoh's soldiers.

One to Pharaoh's lean kine.

One to Sisera's death.

Two to Job.

One to Daniel

One to Nebuchadnezzar.

One to Samson.

Two to Goliath.

One to Deborah.

One to JezebeL

Two to Jephthah.

One to David.

One to AhithopheL

Two to Solomon.

One to the Queen of Sheba.


Seven allusions to Herod.
Two to Pilate.
Two to Judas.
One to Barabbas.
Two to Golgotha.

Five to the parable of the Prod-
igal Son.

Three to the parable of the rich
man and Lazarus.

Two to the legion of devils.

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f* Besides these," the writer remarks, " there are a great many passages in
Shakespeare's writings which, although not quotable either as parallels or as
direct allusions, nevertheless, by some peculiarity of phrase or figure, dis-
tinctly reveal a biblical source, or suggest at once some biblical equivalent
Take, for example, the following from * All's Well that Ends Well,' where
Helena, the daughter of a famous physician, in trying to persuade the King of
France to try the remedy she possesses for the cure of his disease, pleads
these arguments in defence of her youth and seeming inexperience : —

* He that of greatest works b finisher.
Oft does them by the weakest minister;
So Holy Writ in babes hath judgment shown.
When judges have been babes. Great floods have flown
From simple sources ; and great seas have dried ^

When miracles have by the greatest been denied.
Oft expectation fails, and most oft there
Where most it promises : and oft it hits
Where hope is coldest, and despair most sits*'

" What a comprehensive ramification of biblical allusion do these few words
contain ! The first lines call to mind at once the text in first Corinthians, —
' God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and
the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty.' Then
in the next lines we are reminded of Matthew xxi. 16, — *Out of the mouths
of babes,' etc. ; and in the words, * When judges have been babes,' of the child-
prophet Samuel, and of the youthful Daniel judging the two elders. In the
next sentence we have a hint of Moses* miracle in Horeb (Exodus xvii.) ; and
in the passage, ' Great seas have dried,' etc., reference is made to the children
of Israel passing through the Red Sea, when the power by which such
miracles were wrought was denied by ' the greatest,' evidently alluding in this
case to Pharaoh."

Striking and interesting as these allusions are, — furnishing, as they do,
conclusive verbal proofs that Shakespeare was a diligent reader of the Bible,
— I am anxious rather to fix attention upon passages in bis works which
prove that his mind was imbued with the morality of Scripture-teaching;
that the leading truths of Revelation were familiar to him, and, indeed, give a
tone and a character to his writings which in no small manner have tended to
secure for him his wide-spread and still wide-spreading fame. He never de-
scends to the dead level of the semi-pagan morality of his times, but his mo-
rality is derived immediately from Christian sources. The graces of Christian
character are faithfully delineated, and there is scarcely a vice which he has
not helped to make more repugnant and hideous. These passages are exceed-
ingly numerous, and the following limited selections must only be regarded as
specimens of them.

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Rom. V. 8; Si. yohn Hi. ib,
"All the souls that were, were forfeit once;
And He that might the vantage best have took,
Found out the remedy." Measure for Measure.
** Now, by the death of Him that died for all."
King Henry VI.


Psalm cxxvi. j, 6.
" The liquid drops of tears that you have shed.
Shall come again, transformed to orient pearl ;
Advantaging tlieir loan, with interest
Of ten-times-double gain of happiness."

King Richard 111.



Heb. xii. j, 6, //; Psalm cxLx. yt.

** This sorrow 's heavenly;

It strikes where it doth love." Othello.

*' Whom best I love, I cross ; to make my gift

The more delayed, delighted." Cymbellne,

Proro, xvi. i8 ; Dan. iv. 30-32 ; St. Matt, xxiii. 12.
** Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself,
And falls on the other." Macbeth.

" Fling away ambition :
By that sin angels fell." King Hairy VI II.

** Thi? is the state of man. To-day he puts forth
The tender leaves of hope, to-morrow blossoms,
And bears his blushing honors thick upon him :
The third day comes a frost, a killing frost;
And,— when he thinks, good easy man, full surely
His greatness is a-ripeniug, — nips his root.
And then he falls." King Henry VIII.

St, Matt, vti, /, 3t s i St. ^ohn vlll. 7 / Rom. xiv.

" Go to your bosom ;
Knock there; and ask your heart, what It doth

That's like my brother's £ault: if It confess
A natural guiltiness, such as his is.
Let it not sound a thought upon your tongfue
Against my brother's life."

Measure for Measure.
" Forbear to judge, for we are sinners all."

King Henry VI.

Prorv. xxvl. 27 1 xi. Jq; Isa. Hi. 11 ; Exek. xxxv. b.

" Even-handed justice
Commends the ingredients of our polson'd chalice
To our own lips." Macbeth.

** 1 told you all.
When we first put this dangerous stone a-rolling,
Twould fall upon ourselves."

King Henry VIIL
" By bad courses may be understood,
That their events can never turn out good."

Richard II,

** Sin, gathering head.
Shall break Into corruption." King Henry tV,

Eccles. X. lb.
*• Woe to the land that's govern'd by a child."

King Richard III.

Rom. xiil. to.
••Charity itself fulfils die law."

Lovers Labour '5 Lost.

Prov. xxvili. i; Lev. xxvi. 3b; Psalm liii.s;

Acts iv. 13.
••What stronger breastplate than a heart untainted ?
Thrice is he armed that hath his quarrel just ;
And he but naked, though locked up in steel.
Whose conscience with injustice is corrupted."

King Henry VI.
•• Conscience, it makes a man a coward."

King Richard HI.
•• Virtue is bold, and goodness never fearful."

Measure Jor Measure.
*• How ist with me when every noise appalls me ? "

" Suspicion always haunts the guilty mind;
The thief doth fear each bush an olficer."

King Henry VI,

Isa. Ivil. 20; Job XV. 20-22, 24,
•• Conscience is a thousand swords."

King Richard III,
••The clogging burden of a guilty soul."

King Richard //.
" I'll haunt thee like a guilty conscience still."

Trollus and Cresslda,
" O, it is monstrous ! monstrous !
Methought the billows spoke and told me of it :
Tlie winds did sing it to me ; and the thunder.
That deep and dreadful organ-pipe, pronounced
The name of Prosper : it did bass my trespass."

Tlie Tempest.


Prov, xiv, 14; Rom. xiv. 22; 1 St. John Hi, 21 ;

2 Cor. 1. 12.
•• Truth hath a quiet breast." King Richard II.

•• I feel within me
A peace above all earthly dignities,
A still and quiet conscience."

King Henry VIIL

Eccles. iv. b; Prov. xiii. 7, xv. ib; St. Luk4
xii. is; I Tim. v.b,
•• *Tis better to be lowly bom.
And range with humble livers in content.
Than to be perk'd up in a glistering grief,
And wear a golden sorrow."

King Henry VIIL

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" Nought's had, all's spent,
Where our desire is got without content."

" My crown is in my heart, not on my head ;
Not deck'd with diamonds and Indian stones,
Nor to be seen : my crown is call'd content ;
A crown It is, that seldom kings enjoy."

King Henry VL
" Too much honor ;
O, tis a burden, tis a burden,
Too heavy for a man that hopes for heaven."

King Henry VUI.

Gen, iv, to^ ix. 6.
" Blood, like sacrificing Abel's, cries
Even from the tongueless caverns of the earth."
King Richard II.
** Guiltiness will speak.
Though tongues were out of use." Othello.

"For murder, though it have no tongue, will

With most miraculous organ." Hamlet.


Eccles. ii. 14, viii. 8; ^ob Hi. iq; Heb. ix. 27,

** WTiy, what is pomp, nxle, reign, but earth and

And live we how we can, yet die we must."

King Henry VI.
" All that live must die.
Passing through nature to eternity." Hamlet.
" We cannot hold mortality's strong hand."

King John.


St. Matt. V. lb.
** Heaven doth with us as we with torches do ;
Not light them for themselves; for if our virtues
Did not go forth of us, 'twere all alike
As if we had them not. Spirits are not finely

But to fine issues." Measure for Measure.

St. Luke xii. 40.
" I every day expect an embassage
From my Redeemer to redeem me hence."

King Richard III.

St. Luke xvii.ss; Phil. i. 21,
" To sue to live, I find I seek to die ;
And seeking death find life."

Measure for Measure,

St. Matt, xviii. 8.
** This festered joint cut off, the rest, rest sound,
This, let alone, will all the rest confound."

King Richard II.

St. Matt. vi. I4t /J.
•* I as free forgive, as I would be forgiven."

Ki^g Henry VIII.


Prov. xiv. 20, xix. 4, 7; Psalm xxxviil. //.

"The great man down, you mark, his favorite

flies." • Hamlet.

"'TIS certain greatness, once fallen out with

Must fall out with men too : what tlie declined is.
He shall as soon read in the eyes of others,
As feel in his own fall ; for men, like butterflies,
Show not their mealy wings but to the summer."
Troilus and Cressida.

" Words are^easy, like the wind ;

Faithful friends arc hard to find.

Every man will be thy friend.

Whilst thou hast wherewith to spend;

But if store of crowns be scant,

No man will supply thy want.

If that one be prodigal.

Bountiful they will him call;

And with such-like flattering,

* Pity but he were a king.'

But if fortune once do frown,

Then farewell his great renown ;

They that fawned on him before.

Use his company no more." Poems.

Online LibraryWilliam Michael Rossetti William ShakespeareThe complete works of Shakespeare: With a critical biography → online text (page 12 of 224)